Gearbox: Doing It Right

I tried playing a little (and I do mean a little) of Borderlands once. The world was pretty cool, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into it. It might have been because I hate guns (omg why can’t ammo just regenerate like magic does?), or because I was trying to break myself out of the habit of playing a ranged character. (Attacking from the hallway or from behind a pillar tends to be my style, unless I’m playing Orochi Warriors. Being a tank involves way too much multi-tasking.)

My boyfriend loves the game, and I feel weird that I just didn’t like it. And now that I’ve been inundated with Borderlands 2 ads in every comic I pick up, I feel like I should revisit the game, or maybe just try out the sequel come September.

This introduction is sort of irrelevant to what I’m posting, but in case you wanted to analyze me as a person based on my style of fighting in games, there you have it. (I’m also a Libra, and purple is my contested favorite color.)

The real reason I’m bringing up Borderlands 2 is that I found a really cool article about an NPC in the game. Tyler Wilde over at PC Gamer asked the Gearbox team some questions about Ellie, Scooter’s sister. Their answers showed a lot of thoughtfulness, in both the design of the character herself and the knowledge that their game has the power to send messages to players, sometimes perhaps unintended ones.

My favorite answer, one that sums up why I’m so happy, is this:

“The narrative goal with Ellie was to have a character who hits all of the tick marks of a good Borderlands character (funny, unexpected, looks as if they could probably kill you in thirteen different ways if you got on their bad side), while also making an independent female character who looked the exact opposite of how most females tend to be represented in games. We also wanted to make sure that, through her dialog and visual design, we never cast her in a light where the player is encouraged to pity, laugh at, or mock her because she doesn’t look like Jessica Rabbit.”

Obviously, I’m pretty happy when developers intentionally create characters (even NPCs) that look the “exact opposite” of most video game women. But the last sentence is what I really like the most.

More than just trying to assure that there is some representation of non-standard game body types, the developers wanted to make sure that players would treat her with respect. Gearbox wants people to see a heavy woman and not just think of her as comic relief or as pathetic. Given how little respect fat women get in real life and on the internet, and how few fat women exist in video games, Gearbox is doing something rather revolutionary with Ellie.

So this, more than the fact that every time I pick up a comic, there’s a Borderlands 2 ad, has actually gotten me excited about the game’s release. Even if I don’t end up playing it (fucking ammo), I look forward to at least seeing Ellie in action!

Thanks, Gearbox, for trying to promote the idea that fat women are real people who deserve respect and who can do badass things.

-Joanna

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